Diet Plans & Programs (cont.)

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The Atkins Diet

(Robert C. Atkins, M.D.)

The Diet Plan Theory

The Atkins diet may be one of the most well-known fad diets. It is a high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate plan. This diet has been around for decades and has undergone many revisions. The previous plan allowed for unrestricted amounts of meat, cheese, and eggs while severely restricting carbohydrates, including sugar, bread, pasta, milk, fruits, and vegetables.

The Atkins diet web site states the current plan "is about eating delicious and healthy foods, which makes it so much better than any of those fad diets out there. You eat a variety of your favorite foods -- lean protein, leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, fruits, whole grains. Plus, you get delicious Atkins bars and shakes from day one and every step of the way."

The plan is based on the theory that eating carbohydrates creates a production of insulin, a hormone secreted from the pancreas, leading to increased weight gain and hunger. When converting to this approach, the plan holds that dieters will experience a reduced appetite, and their bodies will use stored fat for energy versus burning glucose from carbohydrate digestion. Burning fat for energy will supposedly lead to weight loss.

Advantages

The most recent version of the Atkins diet is by far the most nutritionally balanced. For the first time, the Atkins diet has placed an emphasis on the kinds of fat being consumed instead of allowing all dietary fats. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are now emphasized over saturated and trans fats. The diet has also changed to allow "good carbs" instead of severely restricting all carbohydrates. These foods provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals that were once lacking in this diet. The high amount of protein will be beneficial in keeping you full. Research is clear that protein has a positive impact on increasing satiety, which means that you will feel full between meals.

Disadvantages

The Atkins diet has gone through numerous revisions over the years, though there was never any acknowledgement of flaws in any of the diet plans. Until recently, there have not been any studies on the safety or efficacy of the Atkins diet. Short-term studies have shown improvements in blood cholesterol and blood sugar and an increased weight loss over the first three to six months in comparison to control diets. Unfortunately, the weight loss is not sustained at one year, and the improvements that were seen were due to weight loss and not the actual diet. The long-term safety of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets is unknown at this time. In a 2007 rating of diet books done by Consumer Reports, the Atkins diet was ranked at the bottom.

There are four phases to the plan, and the first one is severely restricted in carbohydrates. The induction phase lasts two weeks, and the claim is you can lose up to 15 pounds in this time. During this time you consume no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. For example, one slice of bread has 15 grams of carbohydrates, one serving of fruit has 15 grams of carbohydrates, one serving of dairy has 12 grams of carbohydrates, and one serving of vegetables can have between 5 and 15 grams of carbohydrates. It's clear that 20 grams is extremely limited, potentially unhealthy, and would be very difficult to follow for the long-term.

The Atkins web site states that "depending on how much weight you have to lose, you can safely continue with the induction phase as long as the following three conditions are met:

  • Your blood chemistries, lipid values, blood pressure or blood sugar levels continue to improve or remain stable and within normal limits. (You will have to visit your doctor to have these levels tested.)
  • You feel well and are experiencing a high energy level, normal sleep patterns, and stable moods.
  • You are not bored. Boredom could lead to cheating and undermine your efforts."

Most people who follow this diet are not under medical supervision, and this can become a very dangerous situation for them.

The the induction phase gets people used to losing weight at a fast rate, which will not last and is not healthy. Faster weight loss does not mean healthy weight loss. Any diet that emphasizes fast, easy weight loss is one to approach with caution. The guidelines are clear that a safe, healthy rate of weight loss is to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week after the first couple of weeks. The Atkins diet states you will lose "only body fat" by eating regular meals, taking in adequate calories, and keeping your insulin levels down. There is no way to only lose body fat when losing weight. Each pound you gain from consuming excess calories is 75% fat and 25% muscle, and each pound you lose from cutting back 3,500 calories is the same ratio of fat and muscle. Claims that you will lose only fat are not based on science despite the fact that the Atkins diet claims to be scientifically based.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/23/2014

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